Now that the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack has launched, everyone and their mom's bot is trying to get their hands on the new N64 controllers for Nintendo Switch. At $50 a pop, they're pretty expensive and you can only purchase up to four of them through your Nintendo Account.
Unfortunately, demand has been so high since they launched that Nintendo has completely sold out their N64 controller stock for the rest of 2021. So, if you haven't been lucky enough to grab one yet, you'll have to wait until next year.
The new controller obviously has nostalgic value making it great for collectors, but do they actually make playing N64 games easier? Or should you stick to a regular Switch controller? That actually depends on what N64 games you're playing.
How does it compare to the original N64 controller?
When I place the Switch N64 controller side by side my original N64 controller, the only real differences I see are the worn look of my old gamepad and the cable coming out of it. The joystick is really floppy on my OG N64 controller, so the new one has good resistance in comparison. Otherwise, they mostly look identical in regards to size, color, and shape.
There are some important differences, though. The Switch N64 controller doesn't actually have an opening in the Rumble Pak area since rumble is built into the controller. The Rumble Pak slot is filled in with plastic and there are buttons on top of the controller that are necessary for interacting with the Switch interface like the screenshot button, home button, pairing button, and ZR button, which serves as the - button.
There's also a USB-C port up there and the controller comes with a six-foot charging cable so you can easily charge it up using your Switch dock. I'm not entirely sure how long the battery lasts for, but it did go for at least six hours during one of my play sessions, so it should last long enough for the average user. You'll just want to make sure to charge it up between uses to keep it fresh and ready to go.
The Switch N64 controller feels a little heavier but not enough to be super noticeable. This is due to the included rumble motors and internal battery that weren't in the original gamepad. The buttons press in nicely and everything responds just the way it should when I'm playing a game. However, the strange location of the screenshot, home, and - buttons make them a bit harder to access in a hurry. Still, they were thrown up top to maintain the clean look of the original controller, so that's the price we pay.
Does it make N64 games easier to play?
Yes and no. The specific buttons correspond to the classic game controls for better play, but that N64 controller design is so wonky it takes some getting used to now that I've gotten accustomed to modern controllers. (I feel like I just betrayed my youth with that sentence). But honestly, these specific buttons and layout are really only helpful when it comes to more intensive games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) that take advantage of everything the controller offers.
As an example, when I started playing OoT on the Expansion Pack, my N64 controller had not arrived yet. So, I completed the early kid portion of the game while using my Nintendo Switch Pro controller. To my frustration, I found that the default controls surrounding the C buttons were really wonky, but the service does not allow you to remap buttons, which is beyond frustrating. As such, I got somewhat used to using the wonky control layout, but I regularly made mistakes because it never truly meshed. One of the most annoying things was that I kept instinctively reaching for the right joystick in order to move the camera, but that would just make me pull out an item.
As I was heading into the Fire Temple as adult Link a few hours in, my N64 Switch Controller arrived. The C buttons and Z button on the bottom immediately felt better to use. Not to mention, I loved that there wasn't another joystick to mess up my game by accident anymore. But things weren't immediately perfect. Using the Switch N64 controller was better, but still had a learning curve — or rather, a relearning curve.
The trident-shaped design, which I had never questioned in my youth, felt incredibly strange to my adult hands. Is this what Peter felt like when he grew up in Hook? I kept pushing the A button when I wanted the B button for a while because it's basically where the B button is on modern controllers, which was frustrating at first. After an hour or so, I acclimated to the retro controller and things went much better from there.
After this significant change in enjoyment, I jumped into Mario Kart 64 expecting the same thing. But I didn't have the same experience here at all. The controls are much simpler for this racing game, so using the Joy-Cons or a more traditional controller doesn't feel weird at all. You could easily use a normal Switch controller here and not notice a difference.
Should you buy the N64 controller for Nintendo Switch?
First off, if you're a collector or someone who really, really wants the classic controller then by all means you should grab it. The minute they announced it I knew I was going to get one myself. The button layout and lack of a second joystick definitely make it easier to play the more intensive N64 games in the Expansion Pack.
If you're on the fence due to how hard it is to get one of these, I suggest you grab a third-party N64 controller instead. You'll only have one joystick to deal with and all of the right buttons will be there. An extra bonus is that the shape of these knock-off controllers are more in line with modern gaming designs and will be easier to use from the get-go. Not to mention, you'll actually be able to get your hands on one for the holidays (if that's what you want) and won't need a Nintendo Switch account to do so.
N64 controller makes things better
While it is incredibly difficult to get your hands on these N64 controllers right now, I did find that this retro gamepad makes it a whole lot easier to play more intensive N64 games like OoT and the upcoming Majora's Mask. You'll just need to prepare yourself to adapt to the older controller since it has a strange design compared to modern gamepads.
Party like it's 1996
The official N64 controller
Using this controller makes it easier to play N64 games on Nintendo Switch. It's wireless and has rumble built directly into it along with extra buttons on top to easily interact with the Switch interface.